State v. Reed

Citation133 N.J. 237,627 A.2d 630
Parties, 62 USLW 2130 STATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. John Robert REED, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date23 July 1993
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)

Mordecai Garelick, Asst. Deputy Public Defender, for defendant-appellant (Zulima V. Farber, Public Defender, attorney).

Michael J. Williams, Deputy Atty. Gen., for plaintiff-respondent (Robert J. Del Tufo, Atty. Gen., attorney).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by


In this case, the jury convicted defendant, John Reed, of knowing murder and aggravated criminal sexual contact. Defendant had confessed to those crimes and that confession constituted critically important evidence. The admissibility of defendant's confession presents the sole issue on this appeal. The police refused, before and during defendant's interrogation, to inform defendant that an attorney, who had been brought to police headquarters by a friend of defendant, was present and sought to confer with him. The issue is whether that refusal by the police violated defendant's constitutional rights, including the privilege against self-incrimination, and therefore rendered defendant's confession inadmissible.


At approximately 8:00 a.m. on March 16, 1987, the Franklin Township police received a call from Fran Varga. Varga told the police that her roommate and boyfriend, defendant, John Reed, had found the dead body of Susan Green, one of defendant's co-workers. Varga asked the police to meet her and defendant at Green's apartment.

After speaking with defendant and Varga, police entered Green's apartment. The door to the apartment was unlocked, and Green's body was found on the living room floor. She had been stabbed, and her pants and underwear had been pushed down around her knees. An assistant state medical examiner testified that the victim had been stabbed fifty-three times. Twenty-three of the wounds were potentially fatal, penetrating her abdomen, liver, lungs, and heart, and a strong blow to her head had fractured her skull.

At approximately 8:30 a.m., police informed defendant and Varga that they could leave provided they could be reached later for questioning. Shortly thereafter, Detectives Importico and Shedden, of the Franklin Township police, arrived and asked to speak to defendant.

Defendant suffers from a speech impediment due to a harelip and a cleft palate, and also tends to stutter severely when nervous. According to Varga, although she tried to help the officers understand defendant's responses to their questions, the officers ignored her. Defendant agreed to go to the prosecutor's office to give a statement and provide "elimination" fingerprints. Because defendant was still quite upset, Varga informed the police that she would drive him to the prosecutor's office.

Defendant and Varga, along with Detectives Importico and Shedden, arrived at the prosecutor's office shortly before 11:00 a.m. The detectives isolated defendant in an interrogation room, and asked Varga to remain in the waiting room. Varga testified that as soon as defendant was taken away by the police, she called her aunt who gave her the name of an attorney, Peter Lanfrit. Varga called Lanfrit shortly after 11:00 a.m., and told him that she and defendant were at the prosecutor's office, that the police were about to question defendant, and that she and defendant "needed an attorney." Lanfrit responded that he would immediately send William Aitken, an associate from Lanfrit's office. Lanfrit then instructed Aitken to meet Varga and decide whether to represent defendant, Varga, or both of them.

Varga testified that immediately after speaking to Lanfrit she informed a police officer that an attorney was on his way and asked that the police not question defendant until the attorney arrived. The officer, according to Varga, nodded that he understood.

Meanwhile, Chief Richard Thornburg met Shedden and Importico and instructed them to move defendant to the Major Crimes Building, located a few blocks away. Instead of taking defendant past the area where Varga was waiting and down the elevator, the officers led him down the stairs and out the back door of the building. At trial, the officers denied that they had intended to avoid Varga, claiming that walking down four flights of stairs with defendant had been more convenient than using the elevator near which Varga was sitting. The officers drove defendant to the Major Crimes Building without informing Varga, arriving shortly after 11:00 a.m.

Earlier, at Green's apartment, defendant had told police that Green had called him the previous Friday, terrified because a "black man" was pounding on the window. Defendant told police that when he arrived at Green's house, no one was in sight, so he left after speaking with her for a few moments. The following day, defendant visited Green's home for a dinner date they had made for 5:00 p.m. However, no one answered the door. Unable to reach Green by telephone the remainder of the weekend, defendant maintained that he decided to drop by her home on Monday morning before work. Finding the door unlocked, he entered the townhouse, found Green's body, and called Varga.

Importico testified that he had administered Miranda warnings to defendant because he had been somewhat suspicious of defendant's story. Orally acknowledging that he understood his rights, defendant signed a waiver form, which was witnessed by Importico and Shedden. In the presence of Shedden, Importico, and Thornburg, defendant now gave an account somewhat different from that which he had originally supplied the police. Most significantly, defendant claimed that on Monday morning he had entered Green's home, discovered her body, covered it with a jacket and pillow, and then gone to work.

At trial, Importico testified that at the conclusion of defendant's second account, he and Thornburg had considered defendant to be "more than just a witness." At approximately 11:30 a.m., Thornburg asked defendant if he would submit to a polygraph exam, and defendant agreed to do so.

Meanwhile, at approximately 11:25 a.m., Aitken arrived at the prosecutor's office. Varga met him, explained that defendant had been taken into an office for questioning, and asked him to go help defendant with the interrogation. Aitken approached the prosecutor who would eventually present the case against defendant. Aitken told the prosecutor that he was there to represent both Varga and defendant. The prosecutor informed Aitken that defendant was a witness and not a suspect, and stated that, in any event, Aitken had "no right to walk into an investigation." Aitken gave the prosecutor a business card, and the prosecutor assured Aitken that the police would call him if and when defendant requested an attorney. Aitken then took Varga to a coffee shop, where Varga told him what had happened that day.

Because the prosecutor represented the State in the case against defendant, he did not testify at the pre-trial hearing. Thus, the record does not indicate whether the prosecutor informed the investigating officers that Aitken was present. Shedden, however, testified that although he had not been aware that an attorney was present to assist defendant, he had known that one was there for Varga. No one informed defendant that a lawyer retained by Varga was waiting to see him.

Roughly about noon, Thornburg decided to administer a lie-detector test, and contacted polygraphist Lt. Mazzei. Mazzei gave defendant a "Miranda quiz" to ensure that he understood his rights. Mazzei testified that defendant answered all of the questions appropriately and indicated that he understood that if he could not afford an attorney, one would be appointed. Defendant also signed a statement that said, "I am here of my own free will, I know I can leave this room by merely telling [Mazzei] that I wish to leave."

Before attaching defendant to the polygraph machine, Mazzei asked defendant some questions concerning his account of the murder. In response, defendant began to tell a story markedly different from the second account he had provided Thornburg, Importico, and Shedden. According to Mazzei, in the third version of the defendant's story, defendant had actually witnessed Green being murdered when, looking through Green's front window, defendant had seen a "black man" repeatedly stabbing her.

Mazzei wrote a synopsis of the story, which defendant read and signed. Mazzei then hooked defendant to a polygraph machine and demonstrated how the machine worked. Defendant decided he did not wish to take a lie-detector test, and Mazzei unhooked him.

Mazzei left the room and informed Thornburg and Shedden that defendant had changed his story. Mazzei then returned defendant to the interrogation room, where Thornburg and Shedden told defendant that they did not believe he had been telling the truth. Employing what is known as the classic "good cop-bad cop" technique, 1 1 Thornburg raised his voice and accused defendant of killing Green because she would not have sex with him, and stated that defendant was "nothing more than an animal." Thornburg then left the room, claiming that he was going to file a murder complaint.

Shedden remained in the room with defendant. In a friendly tone, Shedden told defendant that although he also believed that defendant had killed Green, he could understand that defendant could have gotten upset with her for "any number of reasons," and that "he could understand how maybe [Green] could have had this coming to her." Defendant responded by admitting that he had killed Green.

After waiving his Miranda rights for a third time, defendant confessed on tape. Stuttering severely, defendant offered his fourth and final account of the events surrounding Green's murder. Defendant explained that Varga had gone away for the weekend even though he had asked her not to go because he was feeling "depressed and weak." After Varga...

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